When I was younger and living at home, we lived in a beautiful house in Markham, Ontario. Since my father had decided to remodel the house, one of the elements he wanted was a wood stove. A fireplace would simply not do, as my father was raised in the country, where fire was all important for heating during the winter. It was during that time that he learned that a fireplace was mostly a decorative home element rather than a true source of heat. With a wood stove, the closed combustion chamber and the heavy mass of metal that make up the stove structure increase the efficiency of any wood burned within by capturing and releasing heat over time.
When most people think of a wood stove, the image of a small, black, horizontal, front-loading stove comes to mind. But these types of stoves are what I refer to as the basement stove; it works well enough, but it sure isn't pretty to look at, so might as well hide it in the basement! Well that is not the type of stove my father wanted. He told me about a stove he had seen in an old home, a vertical design, covered in enamel, with front and top loading. I had never seen anything of the sort, but lo and behold, my father returned home one evening with a receipt for delivery for the stove he wanted, the Petit Godin cast iron wood stove:
Although Godin stoves are no longer made, it is possible to find them through specialized dealers and other sources, including antique stores! Although I always found that little stove very nice, it just didn't appeal to me aesthetically. I prefer cleaner design, with less clutter and decoration, but higher manufacturing quality and more efficient functionality. My research led me to discover RAIS, a Danish company that designs and manufactures wood stoves in several different models based on the original RAIS wood stove, designed by the architect Bent Falk in 1970. He took on the challenge of designing an environmentally-friendly series of “green” homes that made use of effective fireplaces. For his designs, he was awarded the Danish Design Award that year for his stove, the RAIS 1.
Some of the models offered include several freestanding soapstone wood stoves. Yes, the same type of stone used in Inuit carving! Soapstone has many advantages to offer from a heating perspective. It is quite dense and retains heat long after the fire has died down. It radiates that heat in a gradual and diffuse manner, avoiding unnecessary hot areas in the room. It allows for the construction of smaller wood stoves that maintain very high thermal efficiency.
If you are looking for a new fireplace, whether a freestanding model or an insert, with or without soapstone, head over to RAIS and take a look at what they offer.